Los Angeles society has celebrities, Milan has fashion, London has royalty, and Paris has haute cuisine. What defines the San Francisco social scene? Philanthropy. While other cities have a social philanthropic “season,” San Francisco fundraising events are held nearly every day of the year. This is where we put our best foot (cradled in a beloved Manolo) forward.
Lee Gregory of Dan McCall and Associates, caterer for many an elegant local charity event, recently overheard a Chicago Lyric Opera patron remark, “We take notice of how geographically small San Francisco is, yet it has great ability in supporting a thriving arts community, with a world-class opera, symphony, and numerous distinguished museums.”
As a fourth generation San Franciscan working in strategic marketing for many great Bay Area institutions, and as president of Symphonix, I see first-hand how San Francisco philanthropy drives a spirit of camaraderie and charitable support in our city.
And, in true SF style, unlike the highly selective exclusivity of other cities, society here welcomes the newcomer, as well as those who’ve been here for years; anyone willing to make the effort can find themselves in tux and gown strolling the red carpet.
Philanthropy: San Francisco’s Heart
“Pioneer families, immigrants, and others seeking fortune and a new life brought a philanthropic energy here,” notes Harold Brooks, president and CEO of the Bay Area Red Cross, “that spawned a community that has a heart for our neighbors locally, nationally, and globally.”
“It’s entwined in the personal history and values of the first families of San Francisco,” says Komen for the Cure executive director Maria Sousa. “It is the business leaders whose personal and corporate values include philanthropy, like Levi Strauss and the Haas families, the Fishers, Zellerbachs, Sutros, and Schwabs, as well as a long line of entrepreneurs who, as they built their businesses, also founded and fostered arts and charitable institutions, including the likes of A.P. Giannini, M.H. de Young, and Andrew Hallidie.”
“As a native San Franciscan, this is all I have known,” says Junior Leaguer and gal-about-town Kelly Grimes. “It is in the city’s nature.”
San Francisco’s brand of philanthropy is also fun and glamorous. Master fundraiser Laura King Pfaff, co-chair of California Pacific Medical Center’s upcoming Wishes for Wellness Luncheon adds, “People like to get dressed up and support causes socially. San Francisco is an elegant city with very generous donors.”
Philanthropist and owner of Paige Glass, Ken Paige believes that San Francisco’s small size is an advantage in cultivating a philanthropic culture. “Very often we are drawn into charities and events by our friends,” he notes. “A call to purchase tickets, or serve on a board, or provide a party venue. Friends are helping friends, and, as a result, providing for the whole city.”
Since San Francisco philanthropy, arts, and culture are intertwined with the business and social scenes, the best way for a newcomer to become a true social San Franciscan is to volunteer at one of our myriad cultural and charitable institutions. But, how does one avoid the “faux” in favor of the “genuine” city culture?
Put Your Passion In Action
With so many options, how does one choose? Make it easy: choose organizations that you have a passion for and that fit in with where you’re at in life. For young professionals interested in the arts, there are organizations such as ENCORE!, which supports the Ballet; BRAVO! for the Opera; ArtPoint for the Fine Arts Museums; and, of course, Symphonix for the San Francisco Symphony. Animal advocates can look at Zoo II, Pets Unlimited, or the SPCA. Attracted to educational programs and networking? Ladies should look to the Spinsters and Junior League, while gents check out the Bachelors and Guardsmen.
“It’s easy to connect with a cause that is personal,” says Hilary Newsom Callan, who heads the Plumpjack Group. “I have lost many family members, including my mother in 2002, to breast cancer. And now there is no turning back. I’m forever committed to that cause.”
Haberdasher Wilkes Bashford—who lives by the mantra, “God did his best work when he created dogs”—says it was only natural for him to develop the first Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) fundraiser, Petchitecture, in 1987. PAWS president and CEO John Lipp, who authored the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Recruiting and Managing Volunteers, says, “Hands down, the best volunteers and donors are those people who have a passion for an organization’s mission.”
Tweet With Your Peeps
Local “doers” know that the best way to recruit new volunteers is to talk to your immediate circle. The same goes for those seeking opportunities. Sam Leichman, Guardsmen and founder of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s San Francisco chapter, says, “Your friends shouldn’t be the only reason you join an organization, but do make sure you like your fellow committee members. There is significant social interaction in volunteering, and this should be fun.”
Follow A Fundraising Diva
Identify those with great philanthropic success. “Find a mentor and ask a lot of questions,” suggests Grimes. “With each endeavor, I always look for powerhouse predecessors. When I was working on the Black & White Ball in 2008, Patricia Sprincin was my advisor, and Patricia had Charlotte Schultz. With that lineage, I was bound for success.”
Flex Your Muscles
Before getting involved with an organization, think about what you can offer. “As in planning your career, it is important to play to your strengths,” offers Roberta Economidis, attorney and co-chair of the American Red Cross Paint the Town Red Gala. “For the Red Cross Ball we need a slew of volunteers with a variety of talents to help organize, sell, and manage the event, as well as those with corporate connections.”
Sprincin, founder of the American Heart Association Bay Area Chapter, echoes that sentiment. “We each have different gifts to offer an organization at various stages in our lives,” she says. “The young have time, the more mature have financial means. What’s important is not be timid, and make your availability known.”
It is also important not to spread yourself too thin. As you are recognized as a “doer,” you will receive invitations to participate and volunteer for more organizations than you truly have time.
Nob Hill Grand Dame Bella Farrow is synonymous with Saint Francis Memorial Hospital as a volunteer for more than fifty years, and founder of the Hospital’s fundraiser Holiday Hob Nob on the Hill. Director of Stewardship for the Saint Francis Foundation, Veronica Le Beau, comments, “A great quality about Bella is that no one can say no to her. When you show the longtime commitment and enthusiasm for a group, it gives you a lot of credibility when trying to get things done.”
San Francisco cannot boast being home to Brad Pitt, Miuccia Prada, Prince William, or Alain Ducasse, but those of us who chose to call this stunning city home can be proud of the individual contributions that make up its unique philanthropic culture.
“One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is being a volunteer,” says Sprincin. “You get so much more out than you put in, and nothing is more gratifying than enriching the lives of others.”
Kathryn Pellegrini Inglin is a senior executive at MacKenzie Communications firm, where she has branded, launched, and promoted some of the Bay Area’s greatest treasures and directed a number of high profile special events. Find her at mackenziesf.com.